Home News Lack of consultation on hydrogen plant near Akwesasne

Lack of consultation on hydrogen plant near Akwesasne

A rendering of the hydrogen facility set to be built upstream from Akwesasne, taken from public slides which Air Products presented at Massena Town Hall in July 2023. Courtesy Air Products

Advocates have raised concerns about the development of a hydrogen facility set to be built in Massena, New York, just upstream from Akwesasne, which could result in environmental implications for the water and land quality in the community and surrounding areas.

“There were no consultations. None. It wasn’t community consultation,” said Kahnwa’kehró:non Ojistoh Horn, who works in Akwesasne as a doctor. In recent weeks, she’s been working with a group of other community members to raise awareness of the facility and its potential environmental impacts. 

The company responsible for the facility is Air Products Inc., which has invested $500 million into the site. They announced plans for the facility in late 2022, stating in a press release at the time that the project would produce “green” liquid hydrogen and support New York State’s green-energy goals. In that press release, it was stated that the facility is targeted to begin commercial operations in 2026-2027.

But though Air Products focuses on climate goals and green energy opportunities in their publications about the plants, Horn said that there are a lot of great unknowns about the facility and the potential impact it could have on surrounding areas. She said that an environmental assessment from the Massena Environmental Board didn’t address some key issues, and that communication between Air Products and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) doesn’t constitute an adequate community consult.

In a press release, the SRMT Environment Division said that they had reviewed the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) decision conducted by the Town of Massena Planning board in relation to the facility. They said they found that construction impacts are fully consistent with zoning designations outlined by Massena, and that effluent waste is subject to strict regulations that comply with state standards, including those protecting aquatic resources. 

“The community has expressed concerns about the environmental review process and pollution allegations,” the release states. “However, the Environment Division could not find any evidence to support these claims in its examination of the documents or in its discussions with Air Products and DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation).”

However, Horn said that complying with state regulations doesn’t mean harm won’t be done to the environment as a result of operations at the facility. 

For instance, the facility will take three-million gallons a day from the St. Lawrence River, which is a comparatively small amount of water, but the water will be dumped into the neighbouring Massena Canal, which Horn said will have a potentially catastrophic impact on the integrity of the canal itself.

“That’s significant; the canal is like a ditch. It’s not even got walled walls, it’s just a ditch,” she said.

The Massena Canal has been out of use for decades, ever since the St. Lawrence Seaway blocked access to the Massena and Cornwall Canals, Horn said, and water moves very slowly through the canal, which connects the Grasse River with the St. Lawrence.

“It’s not clear if there’s any flow through there, it’s not clear at all, and these were questions that were not answered or discussed in the report,” she said. 

“There was no assessment about what’s on the base of that canal, which you would expect would have several feet of sediment collected from the many decades that it was used as an outflow from Alcoa,” said Horn

Horn said that waste involved in this kind of hydrogen production can include polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), which are highly carcinogenic and could attach to that sediment. If the canal overflows and the sediment is disturbed, the water could possibly get into the community, with the unknown effects of that waste being potentially disastrous. 

However, it is not the case that the hydrogen facility will create PCBs, according to Art George, a spokesperson for Air Products. “The hydrogen generation process to be used at the facility does not produce any polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and you will find no discussion of Air Products producing or discharging PCBs in the permit application – which would be required,” he said.

Other environmental concerns have arisen from Air Products’ plans. Despite the company’s focus on green energy, the production would result in the discharge of water of up to more than 30 C in close proximity to fish spawning beds, further endangering already endangered species and possibly proliferating harmful algal blooms in the area.

Plans also include the discharge of biocide and disinfectant, but fail to mention what types of chemicals this would include.

Notably, the construction of the plant also requires the clear cutting of wetlands, which according to Horn has already begun. That clear cutting would have a knock-on effect on the ecosystems in the area, and though Air Products offered a community information session in Massena, no community consent forums took place, meaning that concerns from Ahkwesahsró:non about the cultural and environmental impacts have fallen on deaf ears. 

Horn said that lack of community consultation constitutes a violation of free, prior, and informed consent, as is deemed a specific right for Indigenous communities recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

“Free, prior, and informed consent means that you have all the information given in a truthful way, so that you can make the best decision based on your principles of the next seven generations, and the faces of those yet to be born. All the things that are going to be impacted by the decision. That’s been removed from this by this facility; no information was given to the community,” Horn said. 

Though corporations often communicate with band councils on issues such as this, Horn said it’s not enough under the guidelines of UNDRIP.

“Many corporations use different methods to get consent from the Indigenous people for the projects they’re proposing, and that consent is not always obtained ethically, and that’s a problem,” she said. 

“They misinform and disinform; they don’t give all the information.”

Air Products told The Eastern Door via email that they plan to conduct a public meeting for Akwesasne community members. It will take place at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort Hotel on March 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Summer Room.

The company also stated that all work related to the facility has and will be conducted in accordance with permit requirements, and that they had held four public meetings in the area: one at the Massena Planning Board, one at the Massena School Board, one at a St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) hearing, and one at a St. Lawrence County IDA Board Meeting – though none in Akwesasne.

“Air Products takes seriously any public concerns about the Massena Green Hydrogen Project,” said George. 

“The Massena Project will produce green hydrogen from hydroelectric power and electrolysis of water.  The hydrogen molecules are captured and liquified for distribution, and the oxygen molecules are released into the atmosphere. Oxygen is the only air emission from this process. Any water discharge from the facility will be purified and follow all state permitting requirements,” he said.

“The low-carbon intensity liquid hydrogen product from the facility is expected to be sold to the mobility market in New York State as well as other potential northeast industrial markets. Air Products always strives to be a good corporate citizen and goes over and above regulatory guidelines many times in its operations.”

Horn remains concerned about the future of the facility in the area, and has been joined by many other local advocates in contacting the New York State (DEC), asking them to deny Air Products the necessary permits to consider work at the site. She plans to continue working with others in the community to gather data and research further the potential impacts of the work. 

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on February 23 in issue 33.08 of The Eastern Door.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 5, 2024, to include an Air Products spokesperson’s subsequent statement that the hydrogen-production process will not produce PCBs. The date, time, and place of an information session hosted by Air Products for Akwesasne community members has also been added.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.